Ultimate frisbee, often just called ultimate, is a competitive non-contact sport played with a flying disc, known popularly by the trademark Frisbee (although any 175 gram flying disc is acceptable), invented in 1968. Ultimate is distinguished by the "Spirit of the Game," the principles of fair play, sportsmanship, and the joy of play. Regulation games are played by teams of seven players on a field of 70 yards by 40 yards, with endzones 25 yards deep. The teams line up at their respective endzones, and the defensive team throws ("pulls") the disc to the offensive team to begin play. Scoring occurs when the offense completes a pass in the opponent's endzone. The disc may only move up the field through passes. If a player has the disc in his possession, he may only pivot on one foot. He must throw the disc within ten seconds. His defender, known as the "marker," calls out the stall count. If a pass is not completed for any reason, such as out-of-bounds, drops, blocks, or stalls, the disc immediately changes possession, and the defense becomes the offense.
Teenagers from the Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J invented the game of Ultimate initially as a joke in 1968. The school council president and newspaper editor Joel Silver proposed a school Frisbee team on a whim in the fall of 1967. That spring a group of students got together to play what Silver claimed to be the "ultimate sports experience" by adapting the game Frisbee Football in 1968. Silver, now a Hollywood film producer (48 Hours, Weird Science, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Matrix), first played Frisbee Football at a camp in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts in the summer of 1967. The students were not very athletic, either nerds or druggies. While the rules governing movement and scoring of the disc have not changed, the early Columbia High games had no sidelines, no limit to team size, and allowed referees. Gentlemanly (and ladylike) behavior and gracefulness were held high. The first intercollegiate competition was held between Rutgers and Princeton on Nov. 6, 1972, the 103rd anniversary of the first intercollegiate football game, and at the same site on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. The popularity of the game quickly spread, taking hold as a free-spirited alternative to traditional organized sports. Men would often play the game in skirts, and some would smoke marijuana on the sidelines. In recent years college ultimate has attracted a greater number of traditional athletes, raising the level of competition and athleticism, and providing a challenge to its laid back, free-spirited roots.
Regulation play, sanctioned in the United States by the Ultimate Players Association (www.upa.org), occurs at the college and "club" level, with annual championships in men's (open), women's, and co-ed divisions. Top teams from the national championships compete in annual world championships regulated by the World Flying Disc Federation (www.wfdf.org), made of national flying disc organizations and federations.
Following the "Spirit of the Game" (or simply "Spirit"), the game is self-governed and it is assumed that no player will intentionally violate the rules. Players call their own fouls and line violations. If a call is disputed, the play is redone. This policy of self-governance has come under assault in recent years, as tournament play has become increasingly competitive, and prolonged disputes, unsportsmanlike conduct, and even outright confrontations became endemic.
Some additional rules have been introduced which can optionally overlay the standard rules and allow for referees called "observers" (the X-Rules or Callahan Rules). An observer can only resolve a dispute if the players involved ask for his judgment. In some cases, observers have the power to make calls without being asked: e.g. line calls (in versus out of bounds or endzones) and up/down calls (actively ruling if the disc has touched the ground before being caught). Misconduct fouls can also be given by an observer for violations such as aggressive taunting, fighting, cheating, etc., and are reminiscant of the Yellow/Red card system in soccer. As of 2003, misconduct fouls are extremely rare and their ramifications for are not well defined. The introduction of observers is, in part, an attempt by the UPA to allow games to run more smoothly and become more spectator-friendly. Much of the Ultimate community is split between two camps: those who hold the Spirit of the Game to be the very identity of Ultimate and those who believe Spirit to be an excuse for lazy, non-competitive play.
Still, most players try to preserve its egalitarian roots. There are many "pick-up" tournaments outside the championship circuit, including "hat tournaments," in which teams are selected on the day of play by picking names out of a hat. Pick-up tournaments are generally held over a weekend, and afford players the chance to socialize and party at night as well as play during the day. In addition, less formal games of pick-up are frequent in parks and fields across the globe, often with the same people who play on nationally or globally competitive teams. Nearly whenever people are playing Ultimate, or simply practicing throws, interested newcomers are welcome to join, with people willing to spend time teaching them the throws and maneuvers necessary to play.